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16th June 2017



What part does an individual philanthropist play within museums and galleries in the UK? On Tuesday, the 13th of June 2017, Prism the Gift fund held a panel discussion at the National Gallery, to discuss the role and impact of philanthropy within the sector. The discussion was preceded  by a breakfast in the imposing Central Hall of the Gallery. The panel was chaired by Neil Mendoza, and consisted of Katrin Henkel and John Nelson, who kindly offered their expertise on how philanthropy fits into the growth and operations of museums and galleries, both on a large scale, as in the case of the National Gallery itself, but also for smaller organizations outside of London. Guests were then invited to view the adjacent Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic exhibit.

Neil Mendoza is an established authority on museums and the arts, and is Chairman of the Landmark Trust, a Commissioner at Historic England, Chairman of Children and the Arts, and Vice-Chairman of the Soho Theatre. He founded the pioneering newsagency Forward, and has been involved in banking, film finance, and theatre. Neil opened the conversation by providing a brief introduction on the role of philanthropy in the museum sector, and the ways in which it fits within the operational model of museums and galleries. Neil placed the role of philanthropy within the broader context of the Museum Review, which he led in the past year, explaining how philanthropy plays a part in museums and galleries that are open to the public, and therefore seek to be commercial on a broad basis.

Following  his extremely informative introduction, Neil introduced Katrin Henkel to the audience. Katrin has spent thirty years dealing in Old Master Drawings, and was a partner at Colnaghi until 2015, when she sold the gallery in order to join the National Gallery’s Board of Trustees. Katrin has also been on the board of the Royal Drawing School since 2007, and  is a trustee of Sir John Soane’s Museum. Katrin discussed the different fascinating ways in which the National Gallery seeks to engage visitors, for example by showcasing current artists, creating a designated children’s room for younger visitors, and enabling members of the public to go behind the scenes within the Gallery in order to explore their particular fields of interest, such as conservation. 

Closing the panel was John Nelson, who was the Chairman of the Council of Lloyd’s from 2011-2017, and who sits on the Board of Trustees for the National Gallery alongside Katrin. John also served for ten years on the board of the Development Committee, which he now chairs. In his illuminating remarks, John focused on the financial side of the sector, and explained how philanthropy can be used to bridge the shortfall of museums like the National Gallery, where government subsidies cannot account for the full operating costs. He therefore explained the importance of the development team and their role, and how philanthropy fits into making the Gallery as commercial and accessible to all as possible.

The panel discussion was followed by a Q&A session. This examined the ways in which the free admission offered by public museums can be combined with the ability to monetize footfall in places such as the National Gallery, and on how philanthropy fits into the operating model within museums large and small, both inside and outside London. Following the panel, guests gathered in the adjacent gallery to view Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic, a beautiful tapestry woven by Dovecot Tapestry studio and based on Ofilli’s painting of an idyllic scene within a Trinidadian landscape.

The event was greatly successful, and pushed attendees to consider the role philanthropy can play in helping museums and galleries grow and continue to pursue their work. Prism the Gift Fund seeks to facilitate this process as much as possible, making it easy and uncomplicated for individuals to give, with the aim of increasing the flow of funds into the sector. We would like to thank the National Gallery for so generously hosting the event for us.